Category Archives: HSA mechanics

HSA 55+ Catch Up Contribution When Spouses Have Separate HSA’s

You are probably aware that Health Savings Accounts have a contribution limit that changes slightly each year, and that your coverage (self-only or family) determines how much you can contribute to your HSA. For example, the contribution limits for 2017 are $3,400 for self-only coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. In addition, there is a catch up contribution for those that are 55 or older before the end of the year in the amount equal to $1,000. The IRS defines this catch up contribution in Form 969:

Additional contribution. If you are an eligible individual who is age 55 or older at the end of your tax year, your contribution limit is increased by $1,000. For example, if you have self-only coverage, you can contribute up to $4,400 (the contribution limit for self-only coverage ($3,400) plus the additional contribution of $1,000).

To qualify for the 55+ catch up contribution, you must be 55 within the tax year, be HSA eligible, and not be enrolled in Medicare – basically all of the stuff to be able to contribute to an HSA. The only addition is the age constraint thrown into the mix. This is generally easy enough for self-only coverage, but what do you do if your spouse is over 55 and you are not? Or, what do you do if both you and your spouse have separate Health Savings Accounts? You may be surprised to learn that the $1,000 can go on different lines on Form 8889 based on your coverage situation.

Catch Up Contribution follows the HSA Holder

A guiding principle is the $1,000 catch up contribution follows the HSA account holder, i.e. you or your spouse. To determine your household’s eligibility for a 55+ additional contribution, you must determine if the HSA account holder is age 55 or older by December 31st of the tax year. If they are, you can contribute to additional $1,000 to their HSA account.

The downside is your household may not qualify based on arbitrary factors of who opened the HSA and their age. For example, assume you are over 55 but your spouse is not. If your spouse owns the HSA, neither can contribute a 55+ catch up contribution for that year, until the spouse turns 55. Only then can one extra contribution be made, even though you are already 55 or older. Again, the 55+ contribution follows the account holder, so your age (as a non account holder) is irrelevant. The risk here is you may be shortchanging your household that $1,000 catch up contribution if the HSA account holder is younger.

[The way to get around this is, assuming you are on family coverage, to open an HSA in your name, so that you can contribute that $1,000 (assuming 55+) on top of the shared regular HSA family contribution limit. See next sections.]

Both Spouses have Separate HSA

Remember when we said earlier that the 55+ catch up contribution follows the HSA account? That also applies if you have family coverage and both spouses have their own HSA in their name. However, the rule still holds that only account holders 55 or older during the tax year can contribute the $1,000 catch up contribution to their HSA.

As another example, if you have family coverage with separate HSA’s and you are over 55 and your spouse is under 55, only your HSA can receive the $1,000 catch up contribution. Since this scenario requires the HSA’s to split the family contribution limit among them, for 2017 you will divide the $6,750 up however you like but your account must have the catch up contribution in it, if you make that extra contribution.

Thus, valid contributions for 2017 might look like this for the 55+ / < 55 accounts:

  • $6750 / $0
  • $0 / $6750
  • $3375 / $3375
  • $7,750 / $0 ($1,000 catch up used)
  • $1,000 / $6,750 ($1,000 catch up used)

In contrast, the following contribution combinations are invalid for 2017 for 55+ / < 55 accounts:

  • $0 / $7,750 (can’t put $1,000 in < 55 account)
  • $100 / $7,650 / $0 (must put all $1,000 in 55+ account)
  • $999 / $6,751 / $0 (must put all $1,000 in 55+ account)

Both Spouses 55+ and have Separate HSA

If both you and your spouse are over 55, have your own HSA’s, and are on family HSA coverage, you can both contribute the $1,000 catch up contribution to each of your HSA’s. For 2017, assuming full year coverage, this would be a household HSA contribution of $8,750 ($6,750 + $1,000 + $1,000). Again per Publication 969:

If both spouses are 55 or older and not enrolled in Medicare, each spouse’s contribution limit is increased by the additional contribution. If both spouses meet the age requirement, the total contributions under family coverage cannot be more than $8,750. Each spouse must make the additional contribution to his or her own HSA.

This is a secret HSA backdoor to increase your contribution limit above and beyond the stated family contribution limit, all by opening an HSA for each spouse. Many people don’t know that they can contribute so much money to an HSA as a family. Doing so should not bring additional cost, as it requires simply opening an HSA in your name. The cost being your time, a tax form, and perhaps an account minimum, but you gain an extra $1,000 / year in triple tax advantaged contributions.

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Note: if you have an HSA, please consider using my service EasyForm8889.com to complete Form 8889 come tax time. It is fast and painless, no matter how complicated your HSA 55+ contribution situation.


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Medicare Part A Retroactive Coverage and HSA’s

Medicare Part A is a government administered health insurance plan generally for people aged 65 and older. It is a form of hospital insurance that covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities, and other types of health care services. The general assumption is that Health Savings Account holders can maintain their HSA until they begin Medicare, and then easily hop onto Medicare Part A. As you will see, this may not be so, as there are some catches with Medicare Part A that affect your HSA eligibility based on your age and enrollment date.

People over the age of 65 do not have to sign up for Medicare; they can remain on a personal insurance plan (such as an HSA) as long as they want. However, once you elect to being coverage, or begin receiving Social Security, you are enrolled in Medicare Part A. While this not only ends your HSA eligibility (see next section), it may affect your HSA eligibility in previous months. For those who begin Part A coverage after they have turned 65, there is a clause that retroactively applies Medicare coverage. It states that your coverage start date actually begins up to 6 months prior to your actual enrollment date. From the Medicare.gov website:

If you sign up within 6 months of your (upcoming) 65th birthday, you coverage will start at one of these times:
1) The first day of the month you turn 65
2) The month before you turn 65 (if your birthday is on the 1st of the month
After that, you’re coverage will go back (retroactively) 6 months from when you sign up.

It is that last clause that can really affect HSA holders. It states that if you sign up for Medicare Part A after you turn 65, the coverage will retroactively be applied up to 6 months into the past. While this added “benefit” may be great and help cover some prior costs, it begs the question: what if I had an HSA during those 6 months of retroactive Medicare coverage?

Medicare Part A Affects HSA Eligibility

The short answer to the above question is “nothing good”. First things first, we need to make clear the requirements for being able to contribute to a Health Savings Account. Note that these requirements are for new contributions only; once you successfully contribute to an HSA, the funds they are yours forever. However the key word in that sentence is “successfully”, as you must be HSA eligible for the contribution to be valid. Per IRS Publication 969, HSA eligibility requires:

  1. You are covered by a high deductible health plan
  2. You have no other health coverage (few exceptions)
  3. You aren’t enrolled in Medicare
  4. You can’t be claimed as a dependent

Obviously, points 2 and 3 stick out like a sore thumb. In essence, you can be following the rules as an HSA eligible individual, and 6 months after the fact be retroactively disqualified (made HSA ineligible) due to Medicare Part A. If you are familiar at all with how HSA tax Form 8889 works, you know that this can pose some serious risks to your financial well being.

An HSA + Medicare Part A Nightmare Example

Here’s an example of how bad this can go. Paul turns 65 and becomes eligible for Medicare and Social Security but chooses to keep his day job as a bass player and to maintain his HSA eligible family insurance. Being in a lucrative field, Paul contributes the maximum to his family coverage Health Savings Account each year. In April of 2016, Paul chose to make a qualified funding distribution from his IRA to contribute the maximum to his HSA.

On May 1st, 2017, Paul plays the last show of his final farewell tour and decides to officially retire. He takes some of the proceeds from the show and contributes 4 months worth of a contribution to his HSA for 2017. No longer working, Social Security seems like a good deal so he signs up to start receiving benefits. This also enrolls him in Medicare Part A, which seems like free government sponsored medical care. Paul relaxes in his Palm Springs desert home and enjoys his retirement.

The next year, Paul gets a call from his tax accountant telling him his HSA Form 8889 is a mess and he may owe penalties and taxes. Because Paul was 67 when he signed up for Medicare Part A on May 1st, 2017, the coverage retroactively applied 6 months prior to November 1st, 2016. This means that he was not HSA eligible from November 2016 – April 2017. His accountant informs him that as a result, Paul has over contributed to his HSA for the 4 months in 2017 which will have to be removed. Even worse, his accountant tells him that the qualified funding distribution he made form his IRA in 2016 has been disqualified due to something called a Testing Period – Medicare made him ineligible for HSA contributions for 2017. That money is being taxed and penalized as well. Paul woefully reviews his financial statements and is upset as he thought he was everything by the book. Thinking it over, he considers booking a few reunion shows with his band mates back in LA.

How to Manage your HSA with Medicare Part A

Given the fact that Medicare Part A can retroactively disqualify you from being HSA eligible, it is best to prepare for such an event and plan accordingly. This involves a combination of 1) knowing if you are at risk for retroactive coverage and 2) planning your preceding and current HSA actions appropriately. As such, we recommend the following:

Determine when you will use Medicare Part A

If you are in your 60’s, you should be thinking about when you will sign up for Medicare Part A coverage, keeping in mind that this is also triggered by beginning Social Security benefits. If this occurs when you are age 65 and 1/2 or older, you are in the danger zone of having retroactive coverage applied. If this is the case, you will want to work backwards 6 months to plan your HSA accordingly. Will the 6 months fall within 1 tax year? Or is it possible that the 6 months will straddle 2 different tax years? By my count, the latter could affect HSA decisions you make up to 18 months in advance of enrollment!

Recalculate and Reduce HSA Contributions

If Medicare Part A applies retroactive coverage and makes you HSA ineligible for those months, you need to reduce your HSA contributions for that time frame. Remember, you are not HSA eligible if you are on Medicare, and thus cannot contribute to your HSA during those months. Instead you need to make a calculate your contribution limit for partial year coverage. For example, if you are 66 years old and have HSA eligible insurance for all of 2017, but then enroll in Medicare in December, you really were only HSA eligible for 5 of those months (since the final 6 months will have Medicare coverage). As a result, you can only contribute 5/12 of your HSA contribution maximum for that year. Many people get tripped up by contributing the full year amount early in the year, which leads to excess contributions once Medicare hits. Save yourself the headache and calculate your “true” maximum contribution early on and conservatively contribute that amount, knowing that you have until tax day to make prior year contributions.

Avoid the Last Month Rule and Qualified Funding Distributions

Retroactive Medicare Part A coverage wrecks the most havoc on HSA contributions that contain a Testing Period. These include the use of the Last Month Rule (to contribute more than normal in a partial coverage year) or the Qualified Funding Distribution (contribute to your HSA from an IRA). Both of these contributions require that you maintain HSA coverage for a given amount of time known as the Testing Period (up to 1 year). The risk is that do everything right and maintain HSA eligible coverage through the Testing Period, but then Medicare comes in and applies retroactive coverage. This in fact fails you for the entire Testing Period if you have Medicare coverage for even 1 month of it. And the worst part is that the penalties for this are fairly severe. They involve walking back your contribution amount, adding it to income, and applying a tax on top of it. You will want to carefully consider the timing of these types of contributions if you are over 65 and considering Social Security or Medicare Part A enrollment.

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Note: if you need help on Form 8889 with partial year coverage, excess contributions, last month rule, or qualified funding distributions, please consider using my service EasyForm8889.com to complete Form 8889. It asks simple questions and is fast and painless, no matter how complicated your HSA situation may be.


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Not Using the Last Month Rule when Coverage Changes


This question was submitted by HSAedge reader Kevin. Feel free to submit your question today to evan@hsaedge.com.


I have an additional question/scenario regarding the Last Month Rule I was hoping you could help with. My wife and I began a HSA-eligible policy August 1 of this year. On January 1, we will switch to an Obamacare plan that is not HSA eligible. I assume that we would NOT be eligible to make HSA contributions in 2017 under this plan. If so, does that mean we are ALSO not able to make contributions in 2016 (without failing testing period and paying penalty)?

If I understand you correctly, you have HSA eligible coverage from Aug through Dec of 2016. On January 1st 2017 you are switching to a new plan that is HSA eligible but ACA modifications make it de facto HSA ineligible.

If that is true, you can definitely still contribute to your HSA for 2016 but on a pro rata basis, i.e. proportionate for the months you had coverage. By my count that is 5/12 months so your 2016 contribution limits would be:

  • Single coverage = 5/12 * $3,350 = $1,395.83
  • Family coverage = 5/12 * $6,750 = $2,812.50
  • If you are 55 or older add 5/12 * $1,000 = $416.67 to above amounts

The key point is that you can always contribute to your HSA for times that you had HSA eligible coverage, full stop. You then have the decision of whether to use the Last Month Rule or not, so it is optional. Using it allows you to contribute the full year’s HSA contribution limit (e.g. $3,350 or $6,750 above) regardless of actual time covered. Not using it -and this is what trips people up- reverts to the default, which is a contribution limit determined by the number of months coverage. No one is forced into using the Last Month Rule, and doing so can be detrimental, since as you note the Testing Period comes into play along with the risk of penalty.

So in your situation, with an upcoming coverage change that would fail the Testing Period, it is definitely best to avoid using the Last Month Rule.